The Charles Bronfman Prize names Drs. Jessica Beckerman and Ari Johnson as 2021 Recipients
“No one should die waiting for health care” is the principle driving the efforts of Drs. Jessica Beckerman and Ari Johnson. They are the 2021 recipients of The Charles Bronfman Prize, the organization announced today.
“Millions of people around the world die from curable diseases in settings of poverty, because they get care too late, or not at all,” Drs. Beckerman and Johnson, Berkeley, CA residents, point out. After witnessing this injustice in the West African country of Mali, they joined with a small group of Malians and Americans to establish Muso in 2005.Their organization, which has offices in San Francisco, CA and its headquarters in Bamako, Mali, where Drs. Beckerman and Johnson spend part of their time, provides community-based, proactive health care through door-to-door home visits, doorstep care, and quick and free access to public clinics.
“Delay in healthcare — in diagnosis, in care, in tracing — is a driver of the COVID-19 pandemic,” declares Dr. Johnson, who treats COVID-19 patients at San Francisco General Hospital, “and we at Muso design health systems to cure that delay that could be as applicable in the United States as they are in West Africa.”
“Healthcare is at the forefront of our world today.” Ellen Bronfman Hauptman said on behalf of the founders of The Charles Bronfman Prize, “Muso’s model, which is based on people taking care of one another, could not be more timely or relevant. By naming Ari and Jessica as the 16th recipients of The Prize, the judges once again have selected humanitarians whose work meets this particular moment.”
The impact of Muso’s work is evidenced in Mali’s COVID-19 response. As it did during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, Muso is working with Mali’s government to create national systems for protecting patients and health care providers on the front lines, stopping COVID-19 transmission, and bringing oxygen treatment to hospitals across the country. “These initiatives are designed to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the short-term, and to foster access to quality health care for all in the long-term,” Dr. Beckerman explained.
“The COVID-19 crisis has brought global attention to the need for proactive, resilient health
systems that are positioned to quickly identify cases, trace contacts, and facilitate access to testing and treatment,” Dr. Johnson noted.
Johnson and Beckerman, the husband-and-wife team who respectively serve as CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Muso, share a long standing and complementary passion for health care access for the underserved. Dr. Beckerman’s commitment to women’s health began in 2004 when she was a Brown University student assisting with an HIV study in Mali. Before Muso launched its first health care system, she returned to Mali on a Fulbright scholarship, working to understand what drives the preventable deaths of young women and infants. As a researcher in South Africa, Dr. Johnson, also a graduate of Brown where they met, studied youth access to HIV care, but found that his academic research was not preventing his neighbors from dying of AIDS. They moved to an impoverished neighborhood in Mali and set to work as healthcare organizers, learning from and listening to their neighbors about what might make a better system, leading to the founding of Muso. Seeing that additional change was needed, they trained as doctors to maximize their ability to serve.
Johnson also became a global advocate for universal health care for poor communities. He is an Associate Professor at the University of California San Francisco where he completed his residency after graduating from Harvard Medical School. He has conducted research at the National Institutes of Health, the International Health Institute, Harvard University, and the Kuvin Center for the Study of Infectious and Tropical Diseases in Jerusalem. Beckerman became an OB/GYN physician, with a degree in Medicine from the University of California, San Francisco, and completed her residency at Kaiser Permanente.
“Ari and Jessica are trailblazers in global health and role models for the next generation of social change makers,” declared Jascha Hoffman of Brooklyn, New York, their nominator. “They are spiritually driven, intellectually curious, deeply humane, and insanely ambitious pioneers of global health equity. They are obsessed with providing the poorest and most neglected people on the planet with lifesaving care.”
Today, Muso, with a team of over 500, provides rapid, proactive health care to more than 332,000 patients in Mali, conducting world-class research, and helping the governments of Mali, Côte d’Ivoire, and others deploy evidence-based community health strategies.
Muso’s “proactive community case management” approach for rapid, universal access to care, maternal health and child survival, The Atlantic reported, shows that, “even in settings of extreme poverty and inequity, universal health coverage, health equity and child survival are achievable.”
“The failures and delays in COVID response in so many parts of the world, especially the disparities, give us an opportunity to reimagine what healthcare should look like,” Dr. Beckerman said.
“We commit to the Torah’s moral imperative: We will not stand idly on the blood of our fellow human beings. We are grateful to accept this year’s Charles Bronfman Prize on behalf of all our teammates and colleagues who work to protect the immeasurable value of human life,” declared Dr. Johnson. “Our beliefs as practicing Jews led us to this work.” He notes that his mother and her family fled Tunisia as refugees and settled in Israel, where they and many of his family now live, and fondly remembers his time living in Jerusalem and doing research at Hebrew University.
“I am so pleased that the judges chose Jessica and Ari as this year’s Prize recipients,” Charles Bronfman stated. “Their compassionate, innovative approach to health care is saving lives. This community-based system should serve as a global model, especially as COVID-19 afflicts millions around the world and the inequities in health care systems grow more acute.”
<em>The Charles Bronfman Prize is an award of $100,000 presented annually to a humanitarian under fifty whose innovative work, informed by Jewish values, has significantly improved the world. It was founded by Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, together with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, to honor their father on his 70th birthday. Past recipients have distinguished themselves through their work in the environment, humanitarian relief, human rights, medical and public education, food justice, criminal justice and the arts.</em>